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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Stem Cells and Blood Cancers – New Findings Highlight the Importance of Stem Cells

The importance of stem cells in cancer continues to emerge.

Cancer Cell‘s latest issue (Cancer Cell, 2011; 20 (2): 246-259 DOI:) includes new research suggesting that blood system stem cells include the cue (or a cue) for development of the blood cancer known as CLL. The research focused on HSCs, which is the term for hematopoetic (blood) stem cells. That is, these are not original stage pluripotent stem cells that could take on any role. Instead these stem cells have developed a couple of stages, and have taken on the characteristics that make them HSCs dedicated to generating all the different types of cells found in the blood system.

As always, ScienceDaily provides a strong summary, and key excerpts are set out below. In short, the new study used an experiment to seek evidence on the hypothesis that mature cells derived from HSCs carry a cue for malignancy. Thanks to new tools that allow researchers to find and collect HSCs, they collected HSCs from people without CLL and with CLL. They then injected both types of HSCs into mice. The mice with the HSCs from CLL patients developed B cells with characteristics similar to B cells that develop in a phase of CLL, which some might call "pre-cancer." Conclusion? The HSCs in CLL patients are different than the HSCs in most people. Now the question are: how are they different, and why ? Answering the former question will save lives. The answer(s) to the latter question will lead to future lawsuits and liabilities.

Is this paper dispositive proof on the HSC hypothesis? No. Important? Yes – that’s why the paper made into Cancer Cell, part of the prestigious family of Cell publications. Here’s how ScienceDaily and the researchers phrased it:

"Taken together, the findings suggest that HSCs are involved in the pathogenesis of CLL, even though CLL is a malignancy of a mature cell type. "Our data suggest that the propensity to progress to CLL is already acquired at the HSC stage," concludes Dr. Akashi. "Identification of the intrinsic abnormality of HSCs in patients with CLL should be the key to finding the ultimate therapeutic target in human CLL." (emphasis added).

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